Some cars are just cars. By that, we mean they fulfill the dictionary definition of the word ‘car’ and that’s it. Some cars, on the other hand, are icons. Be that of power, handling or in the case of the Audi TT, design. These machines rise higher than the rest of the automotive landscape, earning instant recognition as they do so. These cars are the ones that invigorate the motoring world, they push the boundaries and they show what can be done.
The Audi TT was a machine that blew our motoring minds back in the late 1990s. It looked like it had come from the future. It was clean, it was uncluttered, it was perfectly balanced and it was like nothing else. It didn’t even look like a traditional Audi, such was the vastness of its departure from the norm. When it was launched, it was only available in left-hand-drive guise. Yet, the need to own one was so strong that many owners imported them to the UK ahead of the release of the right-hand-drive version. It was a car we had to have, and now, over twenty years later, that desire hasn’t faded. The Audi TT is a true, defining modern classic. It’s also still a cheap car to buy, and that means the time is most definitely now.
An introduction to the Audi TT
We first saw the Audi TT as a concept at the 1995 Frankfurt Motor Show, followed in the same year by the TTS roadster concept at the Tokyo Motor Show. It was the product of a design study carried out at the Volkswagen Group Design Centre in sunny California. J Mays and Freeman Thomas, who penned the concept, took design cues from the sleek Auto Union cars of old. The body was sleek and unfussy, with careful, considered details and design touches. Nothing was over the top, less was most definitely more.
Audi TT concept – 1995
The press loved the concept, but at the same time it was dubious as to how much the car would change in order to meet production standards. After all, the design and purity of a concept car is often lost in this transition. And with Audi promising that the production car would be a 2+2 or roadster, that it would be relatively cost-effective to produce (thanks to sharing the same platform as the Golf) and that it would be a sports car that could be used every day, there was a lot to deliver. But, Audi did it.
The production TT, so named after the famed Isle of Man race and also NSU models of old, arrived in 1998 and, well, it was stunning. Very little was lost from the concept car. In fact, the only really noticeable change was the inclusion of a rear quarterlight. Other than that, it was a concept car for the road.
Powered by a 1.8 20V turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the TT was available with 180bhp or 225bhp. Furthermore, buyers had the option of front-wheel drive or, via Audi’s famed Quattro system, all-wheel drive. It was a fast, formidable machine that offered grip and poise aplenty. A true driver’s car, though it wasn’t without controversy.
Several early cars were involved in collisions due to a design flaw. The lack of rear spoiler meant the rear of the TT became light at high speed, resulting in a loss of traction and as such, accidents. Audi quickly recalled all TTs and fitted a rear spoiler which corrected the issue. However, in an ironic twist, it’s those spoiler-less cars that now fetch the highest prices, as collectors see them as a true rarity.
Later in its life, the TT would gain a couple more cylinders, it would go through two model evolutions and it would cement itself as a legend within the Audi range. If you want a sporty car that you truly can use every day with little compromise, this really is it.
What are prices like?
Our focus here is on the early, four-cylinder models (the TT didn’t get six-cylinders until 2003). For us, the early TT is the purest, most true to its roots model. The one that is faithful to that concept car of 1995.
The good news for any of you fancying a TT is that you can get behind the wheel for very little money. £750 will buy a 180bhp 2+2 with ease. £1,000 will put you in a roadster. They are very cheap at the moment. However, there is a caveat. A cheap one will be high mileage, it’ll be a bit battered and it’ll be lacking any sort of favourable service history if it has any at all.
Instead, double your money to around £2,000 and you will get yourself a nice, cared for, unmodified early TT 180bhp. Call it £2,500 for a decent roadster. Interestingly, if you manage to find a fabled ‘no spoiler’ TT, you should add at least £500 onto the price.
If you want to buy the best of the best, budget for around £4,000 upwards. The cars in this bracket will be low mileage (fewer than 50,000), will be in exceptional condition and will proudly boast a detailed service history. These are the best cars though, and you’d have to be set on perfection to pay this kind of money.
Audis of all types wear, if serviced correctly, their miles well. As such, a TT with anything up to 100k on the clock isn’t a bad thing to consider. If you budget for around £3,000 you’ll get an early 225bhp car with somewhere between 75k and 100k on the clock. This, for us, is the sweet spot between a minter, but also a car you won’t be afraid to use.
Why should I buy one?
It’s a design icon, and by that we mean it’s an important car. The TT will be written about for decades to come, it will be studied in design schools by generations of budding car designers and it will always have a passionate and dedicated following. It’s a milestone car in the history of the automobile.
But more than that, it’s just a wonderful car to own. It’s comfortable, it’s safe, it’s reasonably practical (for a sports car – you’re not moving a wardrobe with it) and it’s an absolute joy to drive. In fact, the TT is one of those rare cars that makes you fall in love with driving again. It’s crisp and direct, it has plenty of power (even in 180bhp guise) and it takes in the undulations of the road ahead with near telepathic accuracy. It’s just a fun, happy car.
It’s also a timeless car. One that always looks fresh and modern. And this makes it hard for the casual onlooker to value it. You could be making £100k per year, but if you parked a £2,500 TT in the car park nobody would question it. Its design transcends age, it’s not just an old car. It’s a four-wheeled sculpture, almost. And not many cars can boast that.
How long until I see a return?
The TT is at the very bottom of the depreciation curve at the moment, and it will take a while for things to start increasing, thanks in no small part to the fact Audi built a lot of them. But that’s fine, you don’t buy a TT as an investment, you buy it because you want a TT. You’ll get out of it what you put in. Buy a £750 example and you’ll maybe get that money back on it. Spend a few grand, keep said TT in the condition it has become accustomed to and you’ll not lose any money – you may even make a small profit.
But as we say, the TT isn’t a car to invest in. At least not from a monetary point of view. Instead, the time for the TT is now, because you can still get original, clean, looked-after examples for a price that won’t break the bank. As time moves on, these cars will be harder to find. So get one now, before you miss out.